More states are letting kids take mental health days

With children’s mental health issues on the rise in the past few years, an increasing number of states have adopted laws that allow students to be absent with an excuse if they feel anxious, depressed, or need a day to “recharge.”

a dozen States It already has measures in place that allow children to be let off for mental health reasons, not just physical health reasons. A few others* are considering similar changes to absentee rules.

The move is an admission of a worrying trend: In December 2021, US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory declaring that mental health crisis For American children, citing a “worrying number” of young adults who experience “feelings of helplessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts.” Between March and October 2020, the peak of the pandemic, the percentage of children visiting the emergency room for mental health issues rose 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for children ages 12 to 17, according to the Children’s Hospital Association.

In 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide was the second major cause Death among adolescents, a 31 percent increase During 2019

Kristen M. Nicholson, a clinical child psychologist in Kirkland, Washington, who sees many children with mental health difficulties, said she supports the effort to allow for mental health days. She said kids sometimes need to drop out of school, go for a walk, watch a movie, or even stay home and make a cake or watch a movie.

“I think mental health should be valued as much as physical health,” she said. “Kids are going through a tough time, and they need a break.”

“The pandemic, in isolation, hasn’t helped,” said California Senator Anthony Portantino, a Democrat who introduced a bill signed into law in 2021. The bill does not specify how many days a child can take in a year. . Portantino, whose brother Michael committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 52, said he hopes other families can avoid the tragedy his family has suffered: “The pandemic has exacerbated the need, but if he can expedite reform, that’s a positive thing.”

New school mental health days? How parents can make them work for children.

Supporters of such measures say they are long overdue and could help remove the stigma of mental health in the eyes of parents and children. So far, Washington, California, Illinois, Maine, Virginia, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Kentucky offer mental health days.

“If nothing else, it makes a huge statement that mental health is just as important as physical health,” said Mike Winder, the Utah Republican who sponsored the bill that became law in 2021. She suffered from mental health problems. “This policy communicates from the highest levels that it is okay to look after your mental health,” he said of the bill, which does not limit the number of days a child can take.

But how can taking a “mental health day,” which Americans have traditionally interpreted as the “wink, bet, nudge” excuse to play hockey, improve mental health?

“When students feel physically unwell, there is a global understanding that they should stay home and that they should take time to feel better,” said Barb Solich, director of youth and youth initiatives at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Which supports the use of mental health days.

“School policies that recognize mental health as an acceptable reason for absence can help students take the time they need to look after themselves and restore their health,” Solich said. “Practically speaking, if you have a fever, you don’t care in class, do you? You don’t learn your lesson. If you get too anxious, you don’t learn either.”

In countries that have adopted it, policies vary, although in all cases, parents must sign a memorandum pardoning their child. Some place limits on the number of vacation days a child can claim—for example, in Connecticut, students can get two days a year and may not be in a row—while others don’t, such as California.

As with all absences, it is expected that business will be compensated. But policies don’t dictate how vacation days are used — whether to stay in bed, attend therapy appointments, or anything else. Some suggest that this could generate abuse. Portantino feels whiskers from the idea.

“We don’t question that a parent would want Johnny to stay home because he has a cold. That’s the exact reason we get this bill. That’s a stigma that we have to correct. We don’t differentiate between physical and mental health,” he said. sick, your child is sick.”

Most laws passed or filed require that a parent submit the same type of excuse note that physical illness would require.

Some worry that providing mental health days is not the right approach to this crisis.

In the National ReviewDaniel Buck is Editor in Chief blackboard review, a newsletter focused on education, wrote that school mental health days “can relieve immediate distress but facilitate habits that only exacerbate long-term anxiety and depression.” He suggested that they would teach children to avoid rather than how to deal with the real issues that plagued them, much like social media. “By promoting Mental Health Days, we encourage our students to allow the world to dictate their feelings rather than teaching self-regulation and emotional control,” he wrote.

Instead, he suggests, “What if we restored flexibility in our schools? What if we trained students in the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius and the habits of virtue in Aristotle so that they could face life’s inevitable difficulties? These would include habits of emotional awareness such as regular thinking, discussions with loved ones, or rest days.” Planned and appropriate at the right time.”

Solich said there’s a fine line between taking a day off to feel better or missing school to avoid a test you didn’t study for. That’s why it’s important for parents to know why a child is asking for leave. She added, if a child asks for or takes a lot of these days off, it could be a sign that something is wrong, and indicates the need for professional help.

“We are not going to solve the mental health crisis for young people with a few mental health days,” Solich said. “But it is a great starting point.”

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Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at New York’s Child Mind Institute who studies mental health services in high-needs school districts across the country, agrees.

He said leave would help, but “there’s too little [mental health] Service providers, too few online resources, too few school counselors trying to serve too many students and too little information for educators on how to support children.” Of the more than 100,000 clinical psychologists working in the United States, only 4,000 are of pediatricians and adolescents, according to A 2022 Report by the American Psychological Association. “There is a shortage of psychologists in schools, which leaves children without adequate support at school,” the report said.

Jack Ramirez, 19, of Spring Township, Pennsylvania, said he believes mental health days can literally be a lifesaver for many young adults.

He had urged Pennsylvania Senator Judith Schwank (D) to introduce the Mental Health Days bill in 2020, when he was an intern in her office the summer before his senior year of high school. He said he was still reeling from the suicide of a colleague a few months ago. Perhaps if that student felt he could stay home to take care of his mental health, as Ramirez thought at the time, he would still be alive.

The measure, which would provide two mental health excused days per semester, is still on the panel in the Pennsylvania Senate.

“This is not a bill for skipping school,” said Ramirez, now a sophomore at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who has dealt with his own feelings of isolation and anxiety. High school students feel isolated, and feel the pressure of grades. They compete against each other. It’s really scary, and we’re not paying enough attention. …if we’re going to start saving lives and start talking about solutions, putting pressure on pause about a lot of these things that we’re facing is very important.”

Make the Most of Your Mental Health Day

Should you encourage your kids to step back from time to time from the miniature rat race? And if you do, is there a way to get the most out of it?

“There is no perfect way to take a mental health day,” said Barb Solich, director of youth and youth initiatives at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “But it pays to be intentional.”

Here are some of Solish’s tips for getting the most out of Mental Health Day:

Listen to your child: Ask open-ended questions about their relationships, experiences, and why they think they need a day off. Then let them talk.

Make it meaningful: Try to avoid catching up with schoolwork or getting lost in social media. “This is stress for the kids,” Solich said.

Continue calming activities: Walk, bake, paint, get lost in nature. “Whatever brings your child back to center is a good thing,” Solich said, adding that you don’t want to overschedule for the day, because that would be stressful in its own way. Should parents allow children to indulge in video games, television, or any other screen time? “Nothing really is off limits,” Solich said. “You just want to make sure you’re really thoughtful about what’s going to help you.”

Soften your feelings. Speech: “You don’t have to push kids to talk about their feelings all day long,” Solich said. You can talk about how important it is to take care of your mental health.

Know when you need more help: If your child shows increased irritability, restlessness, depressed mood, low motivation or regularly requests to stay home from school, said Dave Anderson, MD, a clinical psychologist at New York’s Child Mind Institute, you may need help from a mental health professional. York. Contact your pediatrician, school counselor, or family doctor for a recommendation.

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